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I have the following simple sentence:

This is the file to download.

I know what this sentence means (This is the file that shall be downloaded.). However, I believe that this paraphrase depends on the current context; but I don't understand what role the "to download" has in the sentence. What is this construction called?

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    This is what's known as a Relative Infinitive. Relative clauses are tensed clauses normally (the man who came to dinner; the chair (that/which) he sat in), but infinitives may also occur. Relative infinitives have a number of peculiarities: they always imply some deontic modal like should, so the example means This is the file that one should download; the antecedent can be either the subject or the object of the infinitive (the man to talk to; the man to do the job); no relative pronoun, except when pied-piping: the man with whom to speak, but *the man who(m)/that to watch. – John Lawler Sep 16 '15 at 20:52
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    @JohnLawler Thanks, this is very helpful and answers my question. Why are you commenting instead of answering? – user138973 Sep 16 '15 at 20:59
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    Answers are competitive and I have an unfair advantage. Comments are less responsibility. – John Lawler Sep 16 '15 at 21:01
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    Nu? I don't see it as a problem. It's, if anything, a bug in the software; I'm not responsible for, or to, the software. ELU is far from being an ideal environment for discussing English language and usage, but one does what one can with the tools available. – John Lawler Sep 16 '15 at 21:44
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    "A decent and enduring scholarly record of points of grammar"? Borne by unicorns and virgins, no doubt, and at least as mythical. – John Lawler Mar 19 '16 at 19:58
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Infinitives are nouns from verbals with a 'to'+root' verb form. Hence beside being serving the function of a verb(taking subject/object) and noun(be subject/object/complement) they also function as adjectives and adverbs.

In the instant example 'to download' functions as an adjective with the meaning ' downloadable' or ' for downloding'. However,this adjectival use of infinitive is always postpositive or post nominal. To delve deep refer the nice comment of John Lawler.

  • No, infinitives are always verbs, never nouns. Consider: "It's ok for you to call Mom often." You can tell that's a verb because of its subject, object, and adverb. Only verbs take such things, never nouns. Infinitive clauses can take the place of a noun phrase, though. They can also operate as modifiers. – tchrist May 30 '17 at 2:23
  • "To know is to know better, and to know better is to know it feelingly". Here as noun an infinitive becomes a subject and a complement. It also serves other functions of nouns. We call it 'double parts of speech' or verb upstairs, noun downstairs. In the example above 'to know' as subject functions like a noun but since verb is modified by adverb. – Barid Baran Acharya May 30 '17 at 3:00
  • There are no "double parts of speech" (see Professor Lawler’s recent post this). I think you're confusing the part of speech with the grammatical function that a larger constituent is performing syntactically. Just because something is a subject does not make it a noun in the same way that just because something is modifying a noun does not make it an adjective. Similarly all the rest. Look at how constituency grammars work, please. – tchrist May 30 '17 at 5:13
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Infinitives can function as adjectives and/or complements of nouns. For example:

a place to stay
something to do

So it's an infinitive functioning as an adjective of file.

sbj: This
vrb: is
        cmp: file
                det: the
                adj: (to download)
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"To download" is an infinitive, functioning as an adjective describing "file." An infinitive is the word "to" plus a verb. It is functioning in that sentence as an adjective; ask the question, "Which file?" to get specifically "the file to download."

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In a comment, ProfessorAnswers are competitive and I have an unfair advantage Lawler answered:

This is what's known as a Relative Infinitive. Relative clauses are tensed clauses normally (the man who came to dinner; the chair (that/which) he sat in), but infinitives may also occur.

Relative infinitives have a number of peculiarities:

  • they always imply some deontic modal like should, so the example means This is the file that one should download;
  • the antecedent can be either the subject or the object of the infinitive (the man to talk to; the man to do the job);
  • no relative pronoun, except when pied-piping: the man with whom to speak, but *the man who(m)/that to watch.
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    Perhaps Professor Lawler should be given a handicap, like having to wear gloves containing lead weights when he types. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 9 '16 at 0:02

protected by tchrist Nov 9 '16 at 2:08

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